On paper, it looks like one of Georgia Tech’s patented long, clock-sapping drives to secure a victory: Thirteen plays, 80 yards, and more than seven minutes.
But there was nothing typical about the drive that sent the Jackets to a 21-10 Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Jackets survived a fumble and got a big catch from their baseball-player-turned-wide-receiver, DeAndre Smelter. Smelter’s leaping 42-yard reception over two Pitt defenders set up Georgia Tech’s final touchdown, an 11-yard run by Robert Godhigh with 2:41 to play.
“It was definitely a huge relief for us,” Godhigh said. “It was third down and we needed a big play. He made a great catch to let us stay on the field, run some clock and get some points.”
Smelter has played three seasons of baseball for the Jackets, primarily as a pitcher. In his first season of football he’s Tech’s leading wide receiver.
“I’m not surprised,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “He’s a really good athlete. He’s going to get better as he plays more.”
Smelter’s catch helped make the final moments less dramatic for the Jackets.
They covered the first eight plays and 39 yards of the drive rather easily to set up a first down at the Pittsburgh 47-yard line. But then Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh’s exceptional defensive tackle, wrecked consecutive plays in the backfield.
Donald forced a fumble by Lee on second down that Godhigh recovered.
“(Donald) is a heck of a player,” Johnson said. “He created a lot of havoc.”
Facing a third-and-17 at their 46, the Jackets decided to go for a big play. Lee dropped back to pass and, soon after he let go of the ball, there was a palpable nervousness among Tech fans because it looked as if the ball was destined to be intercepted.
Pittsburgh cornerback Lafayette Pitts was step-for-step with Smelter and had a bead on the ball. Safety Ray Vinopal was floating over from the middle of the field to meet Lee’s pass where it landed.
“I looked up and it looked like four Pitt guys around him and was like, ‘There’s no way he’s coming down with the ball,’” Tech offensive tackle Will Jackson said.
But Smelter did it by leaping higher than Pitts and snatching the the ball before Vinopal could make a play on it.
“I saw (Vinopal) out of the corner of my eye coming. I had to go up and make a play regardless because the corner had pretty good position on me,” Smelter said. “So when I saw (Vinopal) coming over at the last minute I just knew I had to bring it down.”
Two plays later, Godhigh ran for the touchdown that finished the Panthers.
“In the second half, they felt like they had us solved and then that play took a lot out of them,” Smelter said.